STOP, a new musical by Leo Munby and Annabel Mutale-Reed, is a moving piece of theatre that considers mental health sensitively. STOP follows the story of four different people who each arrive at the same bus stop. As the characters open up on stage, we are shown the intricacies of their mental illnesses, and follow their chain of decisions towards two possible outcomes. First, we are shown how their choices can lead to death or suicide. The play then re-writes these endings to follow a different chain of choices, that concludes with the characters moving forwards. STOP highlights the embarrassment and stigma that surrounds mental health as a means of combatting it, to instead give way for a courageous voice that chooses to seek help.
The cast was universally strong. Jack Trzcinski’s Justin – a hopeful ballet dancer suffering from agrophobia and panic disorder – is realised with sensitivity. Trzcinski’s opening monologue was particularly honest. Gemma Lowcock was an energetic and sympathetic Chloe, a sufferer of type II bipolar disorder. She prompted laughs through her fast-paced, uninterrupted singing and well-timed comic delivery, and so earned Chloe’s moments of stillness, to give a nuanced performance overall. I found Eoghan McNelis’ Lewis the most surprising character: his over-confident exterior broke down to reveal a character with body dysmorphia and bulimia. McNelis handled this with skill, and was at his best when demonstrating Lewis at his most honest. For me, the standout performance came from Annabel Mutale-Reed as Martha, who suffered from alcoholism. Mutale-Reed created a beautifully authentic character and her final song ‘You Matter Today’ was utterly stunning.
The cast was universally strong.
There was an emphasis on truthfulness throughout the musical, with the characters working towards honesty and self-acceptance. This really shone through in Mutale-Reed’s delicate and sensitive writing. I thought that the monologues – particularly Martha’s – were very well written, and established authentic characters. Praise must also go to Munby’s sometimes playful and sometimes poignant score that cleverly complemented the characters’ stories. Vocals were very strong, and I particularly liked the ensemble pieces that showcased the cast’s harmonies. Musical directors Chloe Rooke and Matthew Jackson have done a fantastic job in bringing STOP‘s music to life.
STOP does have the potential to be more seamless. Annabel Mutale-Reed and Olivia Munk’s clear blocking established that downstage right was the space of each character’s negative end, the bus stop was a space of choice, and downstage left the space for a positive, hopeful future. Therefore, the fact that blackouts were used for the characters to exit and re-enter to move between these spaces felt unnecessary and made scene changes slightly clunky. I also felt that some of the lighting decisions weren’t completely in tune with the nature of the piece. For example, the blue LED lights underneath the bus stop jarred with the stark and rugged set, and therefore detracted from its realism.
That said, Mutale-Reed and Munk have directed an original show that is for the most part cohesive, and I can see it going from strength to strength over the course of its run. The four characters are complex and authentic, and the musical asks very important questions concerning mental health whilst maintaining its playfulness. STOP is a really special piece of new writing made possible by a very talented cast and crew, and definitely something to catch on their National Tour.